DaDane of DaWeek

 Created: 06/02/03


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What is GDV?

DaDane's Bloat Series
  Gaysie Mae Speaks
Installment #2:   Gambler's Journey
Installment #3:
  What is GDV?
Installment #4:   Overcoming the Odds

June 2, 2003 – This week's DaDane is the third installment in a four-part series on a dangerous medical condition known as Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV) or, as many call it, BLOAT. We first heard from Gaysie Mae, a five-year-old Great Dane who survived an episode of bloat and torsion. She shared her story with us, enabling us to experience GDV from a Dane's point of view. Last week we experienced a bloat crisis from an owner's perspective. Paula Stebbins gave us a candid look at what she and her six-year-old Dane, Gambler, went through together. We'll conclude the series by taking a closer look at GDV – its symptoms, its treatment, and possible causes and prevention.

Note: The information presented below is not intended to substitute for professional veterinary care. Please discuss GDV ahead of time with your veterinarian and seek his or her assistance in all actual or suspected emergencies.

What is Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus?
"Gastric Dilatation" is the technical name for an abnormal accumulation of air, fluid, and/or foam in the stomach; we usually call this BLOAT. "Volvulus" refers to a dangerous twisting, rotation, or torsion of the stomach. As the stomach swells with fluid and/or air, it can twist between its two fixed anchors points, the esophagus and the duodenum. When this happens, a devastating sequence of events starts to unfold. Once the esophagus has been clamped off, everything is trapped inside the stomach. An afflicted dog cannot vomit or belch to relieve the internal pressure, so the problem intensifies. As pressure continues to build within the torsioned stomach, it enlarges and compresses the veins in the abdomen. This restricts blood flow back to the heart and leads to low blood pressure, followed by dangerous cardiac problems and, often, shock. Meanwhile, the stomach's lining starts to break down (die) due to the loss of circulation, creating toxic by-products. In some cases, the stomach will actually rupture. Not only that, but the dog's spleen, bowels, liver or pancreas may also be severely damaged by this grisly cascade of events.

Obviously, GDV is a dangerous condition that constitutes an extreme medical emergency. If left untreated, or if treatment comes too late, your dog will die a very painful death. The speed with which you provide your dog with competent medical attention can mean the difference between life and death.

Is your Dane at Risk?
GDV occurs most often in large breed dogs with deep chests. As a breed, the Great Dane is at high risk for bloat. According to a 1998 study by Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, Great Danes are 40 times more likely to develop GDV than a mixed breed dog. Danes topped the list of vulnerable breeds with the highest incidence of GDV – nearly double the risk compared to the second most vulnerable breed, the Akita. In fact, the Purdue report states: "Assuming that these Great Danes live to be 10 years of age, we conservatively estimate that more than 50% will eventually suffer an episode of GDV!! This is quite alarming given that nearly 25% of dogs can be expected to die during or shortly after an episode of GDV and it is consistent with previous findings that GDV is one of the leading causes of death in many giant and large breeds of dogs." While I find these high numbers a bit questionable, the fact remains that bloat is one of the leading causes of death in the Great Dane. You should know the symptoms and develop your own plan for handling this life-threatening emergency.

A note about the Purdue Studies
The Purdue Bloat Studies have been highly controversial in the Dane community. Some people have claimed the research has not been "peer-reviewed" and they feel it has little merit. I suspect the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association would beg to differ, having published two of the studies: Incidence of and breed-related risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in dogs (January 1, 2000) and Non-dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in large and giant breed dogs (November 15, 2000).

That said, my personal view is that some valid arguments can be made against certain assumptions in these papers. I feel the research has merit, but it is not definitive by any means.

Perhaps the most vocal detractor of the Purdue research is Linda Arndt. Please review the Purdue articles and then review Ms. Arndt's article, The Purdue Bloat Study: On My Soapbox. She raises some good points. (For example, I absolutely agree with her assertion that feeding from elevated food dishes does NOT contribute to bloat.)

In the end, it is up to each of us to look at the body of information that's been offered and decide for ourselves what we will use and what we'll put aside.

What are the symptoms of Bloat?
GDV begins with a variety of symptoms. If you see any of these symptoms in your dog, you should be alert to the possibility of bloat and take appropriate action:
  • Gagging, unproductive attempts to vomit
  • Foamy/slimy mucous around mouth and lips (or vomiting this substance)
  • Distended (hard) abdomen that sounds hollow when thumped
  • Accelerated heartbeat and a weakened pulse
  • Anxiety or restlessness, whining
  • Pacing, refusal to lie down
  • Heavy panting, salivating or drooling
  • Discolored gums (very red in early stages, blue or white in late stages)
  • Weakness and collapse

When it comes to bloat, time is of the essence. Depending on a number of factors – most of which are out of your control – your dog could have as little as 30 to 45 minutes to live after you identify the symptoms.

What are the causes of Bloat?
The short answer is that nobody really knows what causes bloat. We used to hear that GDV is caused by vigorous exercise after a large meal. The rationale was that running and jumping causes an overly heavy, bulky stomach to twist around in the abdomen. Although this was once a commonly accepted explanation, there has been no scientific evidence to support the theory. In fact, most bloat victims do not have overly full stomachs, nor have they recently engaged in strenuous activities. More recent theories suggest that for reasons unknown, the stomach's contractions lose their regular rhythm. Food, air and gas is then trapped in the stomach, and this leads to torsion. But the bottom line is this: No definitive cause of bloat has yet been identified. (Personally, I would still prevent any dog from ingesting large amounts of food or water and I would restrict vigorous exercise for an hour or two after eating.)

The following factors may influence whether or not your dog experiences a bloat episode:

  • Rapid eating, or ingesting a large amount of food in one session
    – Instead, feed smaller meals 2 or 3 times a day
  • Drinking too much water before or after eating
    – Monitor or ration the amount of water ingested before and after a meal
  • Vigorous exercise before and after eating
    – Monitor and limit your dog's activities before and after meals
  • Feeding a low quality dog food
    – Feed a quality meat-based dog food with natural preservatives
    – Consider adding probiotics or enzymes to your dog's diet
    – Or feed a raw diet (B.A.R.F.)
  • Feeding gas-producing foods
    – Avoid soybean products, brewer's yeast
  • Emotional Disposition (possessing an anxious or fearful temperament)
    – Know your dog; a "sensitive" dog may be more vulnerable to bloat
  • Stress (changes in normal routine, travel, boarding, etc.)
    – If your dog seems prone to stress, minimize stressful situations
  • Heredity (having a close relative that has bloated)
    – Bloat seems more prevalent in some lines, indicating a genetic predisposition
  • Physical Build (large dog, deep narrow chest)
    – Keep your Dane at a healthy weight, neither overweight nor underweight
  • Age
    – Older dogs are more likely to bloat than younger ones

More to come
Next week we'll talk about what you should do if your dog is bloating. We'll discuss emergency bloat surgery and post-operative pain management. We'll learn why many Great Danes survive the operation but, sadly, die during the post-op period. We'll talk about gastropexy, and we'll explore whether or not there is anything else you can do to increase the chances that your dog will survive an episode of bloat.

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